HC Deb 18 December 1968 vol 775 cc1401-34

(1) In rule 7 of the parliamentary elections rules (which relates to the nomination of candidates at parliamentary elections, and of which paragraphs (2), (3) and (4) are applied to local government elections in England and Wales)—

  1. (a) in paragraph (2) (contents of nomination paper) before the words 'description of the candidate' there shall be inserted the words '(if desired)'; and
  2. (b) in paragraph (3) for the words 'The description shall not refer to the candidate's political activities' there shall be substituted the words 'The description (if any) shall not exceed six words in length'; and
  3. (c) paragraph (4) (which authorises a returning officer to shorten or replace a description if it is unduly long) shall be omitted.

(2) In rule 5 of the local elections rules in Schedule 3 to the Representation of the People Act, 1949, after paragraph (4), there shall be inserted as a new paragraph (4A):— '(4A) The particulars of a candidate given in a nomination paper may, if desired, include a description in addition to the particulars required by paragraph (3) or (4) of this rule; but a description included by virtue of this paragraph shall not exceed six words in length'; and in rule 12 (2) (a) of those rules (under which the particulars on a ballot paper are to be taken from the nomination papers) after the word 'residence' there shall be inserted the words "and description (if any)'.—[Mr. Callaghan.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. James Callaghan)

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Speaker

With this Clause it would be convenient to discuss the Amendment thereto, standing in the names of the right hon. and learned Member for St. Mary-lebone (Mr. Hogg) and other right hon. and hon. Members, in line 10, leave out 'omitted' and insert 'replaced by the following: (4) During the hours for delivery of nomination papers, and not later than one hour after the latest time for delivery thereof, a duly nominated candidate may object to the description of another candidate on the grounds that his description is misleading and; does not accurately describe him. In the event of a failure to reach agreement the Returning Officer shall order that no descriptions of candidates shall be included on the ballot paper'; and new Clause 3—Amendment of Local Elections Rules—standing in the names of the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) and his colleagues.

In the Representation of the People' Act,. 1949, in Schedule 2 (Local Election Rules), at: the end of Rule 15 there shall be inserted the words:— 'Provided that, notwithstanding anything to the contrary in these rules, where two or more candidates declare their intention in) writing to the returning officer not less than two weeks before polling day to that effect, the names of those candidates shall be grouped together on the ballot paper; and the returning officer shall then cause a. draw to be held for the purpose of determining the order in which groups of candidates and individual candidates shall appear on the ballot paper; and on the ballot paper, any such group of names shall be identified by means of a bracket'; and Government Amendments Nos. 13, 19, 26, 27, 28, 29, 41, 42, 50, 53, and 54.

Mr. Callaghan

That formidable list of Clauses and Amendments, Mr. Speaker, constitutes, with two exceptions, consequential provisions on new Clause 2. They do not give the House need for further consideration if it accepts the principle of new Clause 2. The two exceptions are the Amendment proposed by the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) to new Clause 2 and new Clause 3, standing in the names of the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) and of his colleagues.

I promised in Committee to give careful thought to what had been said about the question of inserting on the ballot paper any political description that a candidate himself wished to insert. It is fair to say that, as a result of its debates, the Committee was ready to agree that it would be an advantage if a candidate were able to describe himself politically if he so wished; and, certainly, there is no doubt that the public are anxious that this should be done as an additional aid to voters.

The Government therefore see no reason to move from their original view that there is a strong case for giving the voter information about the cause for which a candidate stands, and nothing said in Committee has removed that conclusion. The argument therefore settled around how it was to be achieved and there were various proposals. As I acknowledge when I put my original proposal, there were two deficiences in it: first, it was complex and, secondly, it applied only to Parliamentary and not local government elections.

I have, therefore, approached this subject with an open mind, although I had a slight sense of grievance when one of our great national dailies said that I had been forced to retreat in face of a wave of opposition in Committee, whereas right hon. and hon. Members will agree that I declared at the beginning that, if we could find a way to do this, we would do it. That was the spirit of our approach.

I also paid attention to what the right hon. and learned Member for St. Maryle-bone said to me about the difficulties that the proposal would entail for the Conservative Party, which is, of course, something I should bear in mind in bringing forward a scheme of this sort.

The Clauses and Amendments I have put down, particularly new Clause 2, move a long way from the original provisions, and go a great deal of the way towards meeting the objections. The scheme is simple—one describes oneself in any way one thinks appropriate. It also includes local government elections, which is what most people wanted. The two basic objections raised by myself and others have been met. A candidate at both Parliamentary and local government elections should be able to include, in future, on the nomination paper a political or personal description of himself. He may also include, if he wishes, the word "independent" or "non-party", or he need include no description whatever.

The only requirement is that the description should not exceed six words in length. If it does contain more than six words, the returning officer would have to decide that the nomination paper was invalid until the candidate reduced it to the required length. It will not be the function of the returning officer to determine whether the descriptions included in the ballot paper are those which a candidate can properly claim to use. The reason for this is the desire and practice of all parties to avoid involving returning officers in questions which are essentially political.

Every case put forward has some difficulties and objections. The objection to this is clear. It is the prospect that some candidates might use descriptions to mislead electors. This is something that we shall have to take into account. In considering it I have had regard to past history and future prospects. If I may put it on the most pompous plane, it would show a lack of proper respect for our Parliamentary procedures if we proceeded on the view that candidates who were advancing themselves for selection by their fellow citizens for elevation to this House or to local government were likely to so misuse the procedure as to endeavour to deceive the electors about themselves.

I would hope that most people who stand for election would have a proper sense of responsibility. I agree that one cannot wholly rely on that. I do not think that there is much in the argument that any political party will find a series of £150 deposits to put up so that they can nominate mischievous candidates on the other side. That is not the way we normally conduct our affairs, but it is a risk that we will have to take in adopting a procedure of this sort.

The greatest difficulty is likely to come when one has a candidate who is slightly off-centre from his party and wants to claim the right to call himself by that party name. I would answer that by saying that he can do that at the moment on everything but the ballot paper. He can do it in his address to the electors, in his window bills, in any election literature including his "election specials" that he cares to send round. So we are not removed from that danger at all, although obviously we are increasing it marginally by allowing such a misleading description, if it is misleading, to be included in the ballot paper.

Mr. Onslow

The right hon. Gentleman should realise that there is more than a marginal element in this, because it is the one piece of paper which a candidate can rely on getting into the hands of anyone who goes to vote.

Mr. Callaghan

That is true. This is a matter for argument that could be put in debate.

The same objection would have arisen on the Conservative Party's own proposal. That was one reason why I felt that this ought to meet its wishes. Its proposal was to post, either in the booth or the polling station a list with the names, which candidates themselves were free to choose. It would be a marginal difference, because if it was posted on a notice in the polling booth that would be brought to the attention of every elector at the moment of decision. There is not a great deal of difference between the Amendment and the new Clause, except that mine deals with the ballot paper and the Amendment mentions a notice in the polling booth or station.

I want to deal with local government elections. The effect of the Government's Clause is to apply the scheme for party labels to local government elections in Scotland. At present, there is no provision for the inclusion of any description whatever on nomination papers and ballot papers at those elections. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland was quick to point this out to us, so we would be extending the right there, and I gather that he takes no exception to it.

I have considered the Amendment tabled by the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone. It assumes that candidates can object to a misleading description on another candidate's nomination paper. At Parliamentary elections he has the right to object, although the bases on which he can object are very limited, as will be seen from the relevant Schedule in the Representation of the People Act. In paragraph 5 of the local election rules in that Act it will be found that there is no provision for a candidate to object to a nomination paper. This only applies apparently in Parliamentary elections, and there is no provision or procedure for it in local government elections. A candidate does not have that right at local government elections. The present arrangements for the delivery of nomination papers would not permit objections to be put forward by candidates to the returning officers.

Under the law there is no provision for considering the question of a misleading description at the stage of nomination. One reason is that the returning officer would not be able to deal with such an objection. Take the esoteric case of the candidate who described himself either as "gentleman" or "esquire". I understand that in the 18th century a great deal of time and erudition was spent on consideration of this weighty matter. We have now removed this from the control of the returning officer and most of us, although we may feel it is irrelevant, are grateful.

There are also some practical objections to the right hon. and learned Member's Amendment. If there was agreement between the objector and the candidate in question to amend the description complained of, and they might come to an agreement after representations, there would have to be some procedure for notifying other candidates of the change, because they might feel that they had an interest in it, too. They might object to the change of description. It might come too close to their own candidature to make it attractive to them. We would have to provide for them not to be deprived of their opportunity. It is at least possible to argue that if there is a change to be made the proposer and the other signatures on the nomination paper ought to be consulted before a change is made. That, too, would involve time, and a procedure that would need to be followed. Time is rather important at this stage.

Mr. C. Pannell

Before we embark on any machinery which we may regret, would my right hon. Friend bear in mind, on this narrow point, whether it would not be enough to consult just the mover and seconder of the nomination paper, rather than a dozen people?

Mr. Callaghan

I should have thought that that might be possible, too. I will not propose any machinery. What I am saying is that no machinery exists. If we were to adopt this proposal it would be necessary to write in some machinery. I recommend that it is not worth while devising an intricate piece of machinery for this purpose. The over-riding factor, however, is that it is undesirable that the returning officer should become involved in political controversy. The effect of the Amendment would clearly be to involve him. He would have to take some decisions. In the case of Parliamentary elections it is arguable, but with local elections there is the view that this might involve him in taking decisions about those who would later be his employers, in one form or another.

Having looked at this Amendment as fairly as I have looked at all the other proposals, I have reached the conclusion that although an element of risk is involved, if one takes account of the factors, if we start from the premise that it is a good thing to have a description on the ballot paper, either political or personal, we should leave it to the good sense of the candidate to decide how they should call themselves. If the parties outside objected, it would be for them to ensure, as they do now, that the only true Conservative is the one nominated by the constituency association and that anyone else was an imposter, or whatever form their objection might take.

4.30 p.m.

Mr. Iain Macleod (Enfield, West)

I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman for intervening on this Bill, but it interests us all. He has been considering the question of misleading descriptions. Would he also consider the possibility of a description which is not misleading in that sense? As he will know, six words to a good journalist can be a mini-manifesto. Surely it would be extremely undesirable if, for example, John Smith described himself as the "Send the Blacks home" candidate on the ballot paper. Is not something of that sort a possibility which could not be described as misleading, but which everyone would hope would not happen?

Mr. Callaghan

Yes, that is also true. We had to consider what seemed to me a minimum number of words. Having looked through the list of some hundreds of parties which have been registered, we find that some can legitimately put up to five words without too much trouble. I can think of, for example, National Liberal and Conservative, and one would only have to put something before National. There may be all sorts of combinations. We thought that six was about the minimum, but I agree that we should see how this works. If the House did not like it and felt in the end that it was not working well, we should reconsider the matter.

However, on balance—all these are various degrees of risk—as the public cer- tainly want this, especially for local elections, where quite a number of words can be needed to describe a candidate—for instance, one could be the candidate for the Sutton and Cheam Ratepayers' Association—I think that we are right to fix about this limit. I recommend it to the House on that basis, that I have tried to meet what seemed to me the general wish. Although objections can be raised to almost any scheme, I hope that this one is worth trying and will raise the smallest number of objections.

Mr. Sharples

The House is grateful to the Home Secretary for the way in which he has tried to meet the generally expressed view on both sides that any scheme for putting party labels on ballot papers or exhibiting them in the polling stations should be equally applicable to local elections. It was the general view that it was probably much more important in local elections, where the number of candidates is probably much larger than at a Parliamentary election. There were references to 16 or more names on a ballot paper in some cases, with three or four representing one party.

I express our gratitude for the way in which he has met our difficulties about the registration of parties. I appreciate that this has meant to a large extent that his original scheme has had to go. That is why we are faced with this large number of Amendments to take out a large part of the Bill.

The other criterion which I mentioned in Committee was that the returning officer should not have to make a political decision. This, I think, is a correct principle. Our proposal will not involve the returning officer. In Committee, I referred to the question of putting the name on the ballot paper as opposed to our scheme of simply a notice being exhibited in the polling station of the party or political organisation which a candidate purported to represent. I said that there was a considerable difference between the mere exhibition of a notice and the putting of a party or organisation name on the ballot paper, which is looked upon by most people as a statutory and authoritative document.

But somewhat different considerations apply. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) has said, difficulties could arise. We do not want to exaggerate. I agree with most of what the right hon. Gentleman said. I think that the people, particularly in Parliamentary elections, where there is far more putting forward of views and disagreeing with views, can be relied upon to use their good sense, but there is a possibility of someone trying deliberately to confuse the issue by putting a misleading description on the paper. For instance, someone whose name began with a letter high in the alphabet could include such a description as the "Official" Labour or Conservative candidate, which would be wholly misleading.

The effect of our Amendment is that another candidate standing would have the right to object to a description which a candidate puts in at the time of nomination or within one hour afterwards—the time is strictly limited for doing so—on the grounds that his description was misleading and did not accurately describe him. There would be no discretion on the part of the returning officer. If a certain candidate objected to the description of another, there would be no descriptions on the ballot paper at all. The returning officer would have no discretion if there were no agreement.

I can see a difficulty in this myself, that it would be open to one candidate, perhaps, to prevent others from having their descriptions on the ballot paper at all, but there is a good precedent for this procedure in the provisions relating to broadcasting, under which one candidate can object to the appearance of others in a television programme and can thereby prevent all candidates from taking part. I do not want to exaggerate the problem, but it is a real one, given the apparently statutory nature of the ballot paper.

I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman may not be able to give a firm answer now. Our Amendment has only been on the Notice Paper for a short time, since we had to consider his new scheme carefully. However, I would ask him to consider this point further and to look at the very real difficulty between now and the time that the Bill goes to another place, and to see whether or not the point of this Amendment can be met by a Government Amendment in another place.

This scheme is a great improvement on that originally put forward by the Home Secretary. I am grateful for the notice which he has taken of the arguments put forward on both sides of the House, and particularly from these benches.

Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)

Every speech made on this proposal reveals the fundamental weakness of the idea. I think that Mr. Speakers Conference was wiser, after all. I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has abandoned the original proposals, which erected a fantastic apparatus to ensure that simple information was given to the electorate which could be given by other means. This proposal is certainly a great improvement.

The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Sharples) and my right hon. Friend had to deal with the problem of misdescription. If a description is to be given on a ballot paper, it must be right. But I still prefer the earlier proposal of the Opposition for the display in polling stations of one poster from each candidate describing himself. That is the best thing. The candidate is going through the election with his own description and it would be an abuse of this proposal if, at the last minute, he set out on the ballot paper deliberately to mislead the electorate about himself. We must reckon with what are usually described as crank candidates who have their own descriptions and means of approach to the electorate.

I have been in this difficulty, but never in a Parliamentary election. If electors are in doubt about where the Parliamentary candidate stands, either the candidate has not been doing his job or the elector is too lazy to find out. Is it the duty of this House to encourage indifference and laziness on the part of candidates or electors? The right to vote is a precious right of citizenship. It is so precious that we are to confer it on people who have not asked for it but whom we nevertheless think should have it. Let us encourage them to do their duty in exercising the right given to them.

I have been in difficulties at local government elections. I looked in vain during one election for the Greater London Council for guidance concerning the considerable array of candidates. I thought how useful it would have been to have had in the polling station a reminder of the candidates who stood under the various political labels. I should have thought that that was enough. It is the candidate's duty to impress himself on the electorate. It is not the function of the machinery of elections to assist in that process.

However, none of us can take objection to the revised version. It is a relief to see the whole of Schedule I go. It offered frightening possibilities—more civil servants and registrars, and more books, registers, papers and all the rest with which I should have thought we could dispense. We have done so. I confess that I was astonished that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, with his intelligence and judgment in public affairs, should ever have fostered a proposition of this kind. Now we have this modified proposal, which I cannot bless, although I will tolerate it if that is the general view of the House.

4.45 p.m.

If I catch Mr. Speaker's eye later, I may have a few words to say about the way in which Mr. Speaker's Conference is being treated by the House and the Government. This is not the moment to do that, but I wish to remind the House that that conference mulled over this problem, saw the difficulties and examined the possibilities of abuse and misdescription. We went through the mental processes which the Government have gone through and which the House is asked to go through now.

It will be very bad for Mr. Speaker's Conference and for the reputation of the House if work which is done freely, voluntarily and assiduously for long hours by Members of the House to assist the House to come to agreed conclusions is then wasted. After all, that is what Mr. Speaker's Conference is enjoined to do. We reach agreed conclusions, we make our recommendations to the House and then we find that they are flouted. Later, I shall point out the extent to which our recommendations have been flouted. That is bad both for Mr. Speaker's Conference and for the House.

Although it is perhaps an empty threat for me to say that I shall never serve again on Mr. Speaker's Conference, I hope that those who come after me, and after Mr. Speaker himself, will bear my words in mind when they are asked to undertake a job of this kind, only to have it pushed under the carpet and have greater wisdom, and greater pretensions of wisdom, brought before the House for its approval.

Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)

With the greatest respect, the right hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) is a little unkind to the Government and to the House about the way in which Mr. Speaker's Conference has been treated.

There is nothing sacrosanct about the recommendations of Mr. Speaker's Conference. In 1917, when the first Mr. Speaker's Conference reported, the first thing which Mr. Lloyd George, then Prime Minister, did was to overthrow a unanimous recommendation and to place it at the disposal of the House, which came to the opposite conclusion. The right hon. Gentleman is not in tune with history if he thinks that the recommendations of Mr. Speaker's Conference are bound to be accepted by the House without argument or debate. That would be a most undemocratic process.

Although some very eminent Members served on Mr. Speaker's Conference, their collective wisdom is not as great as that of 630 hon. Members.

Mr. C. Pannell

The quintessence—the hon. Gentleman was a member.

Mr. Lubbock

They were not the quintessence. I am sorry to disagree with the right hon. Gentleman, but I could have chosen a much better conference if I had been given the job.

Sir D. Glover

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman should cast aspersions on any hon. Member, but I wonder whether he would have deprived himself of membership?

Mr. Lubbock

Having served and suffered on it for three years, I probably would have nominated somebody else if I knew that it would go on for as long as it did without coming to any conclusions.

The other point which the right hon. Member for Sowerby might bear in mind is that Mr. Speaker's Conference worked in secret throughout the three years. None of its deliberations was enlivened by any advice from outside sources, apart from the evidence which was solicited and that which was proffered by outside organisations. I do not think that we made all that much effort to involve the public in our deliberations. Therefore, in many cases, we may have come to the wrong conclusions, and I happen to think that we did. I am very relieved that on many of the decisions which, in my view, Mr. Speaker's Conference took wrongly the Government have had second thoughts.

Mr. C. Pannell

And third thoughts.

Mr. Lubbock

Yes—and why not?

Mr. Houghton

The hon. Gentlman is misleading the House if he is suggesting that Mr. Speaker's Conference did not have outside evidence. In reporting to the Prime Minister, Mr. Speaker said that the conference had studied with care masses of evidence and documentation from many sources. Surely we all remember the documents we received from the various political parties, only to mention a few and perhaps the most important representations which we received.

Mr. Lubbock

I have received from Mr. David Butler, of Nuffield College, advice which was not available to Mr. Speaker's Conference on this important matter of party labels at local elections, and I shall refer in a moment to what he said in this connection. I am just pointing out to the right hon. Gentleman that though there was, as he said, a mass of documentation throughout the three years, much of the advice which is now available to the House in making a final decision, as we now have to on Report, was not conveyed to Mr. Speaker's Conference, and that, therefore, perhaps, in many cases we arrived at wrong decisions. I am only saying that I think that that happened in this instance of party labels. Indeed, we might have solicited advice from eminent psephologists such as Mr. David Butler and that would have enabled us to have come to sensible conclusions and to have saved the time of the House.

As to what the right hon. Gentleman said about preferring a notice in a polling station, which was the suggestion put by the Opposition in Committee, I would ask whether he does not think this would be more likely to mislead the electorate than if we were to have labels on the ballot papers themselves. If a notice appears in a polling station the person whose description is mistaken is not in a position to correct it till the very last moment. Though he might call attention to it by making a speech, or issuing a Press notice, which might be published in the local paper, and though, if he were fortunate, it might receive some attention on the radio or television, this would be at only the very last stage of the campaign, when it would be almost impossible for him to draw attention to the fraud being perpetrated on the electorate, and there would not be time for the correction to sink in.

If a mistaken description appears on the ballot paper, obviously it must have been on the nomination paper which is submitted well in advance of polling day, and then he is in a position to take every step open to him to correct the misleading impression which may have been put upon the minds of the electors.

Therefore, if we are to discuss the merits of having party descriptions on notices in the polling stations, as compared with party descriptions on ballot papers, I would infinitely much prefer the latter, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, on reflection, may agree with that proposition.

Of course, once we have done away with the registration procedures, as provided in the Home Secretary's first draft, we shall run into this problem, which is inevitable. If two or more people use the same description there is no kind of machinery suggested by the Amendment proposed by the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone for making certain which is correct; if there is no agreement, there will be no party label at all.

I tried to get over that in my new Clause 3 by suggesting, as did Mr. David Butler, in an article in the Sunday Times this week, that one can forget about party labels for ballot papers altogether; one can merely provide that where a group of candidates choose to put themselves forward as a team their names will be placed consecutively on the ballot paper and they will be bracketed together so as clearly to identify them as members of a group; and, further, that the returning officer shall hold a draw to determine the order in which those groups of people and any remaining individual candidates shall appear on the final version of the ballot paper.

There is an additional refinement worthy of the Home Secretary's attention, and that is the departure from the alphabetical order which we have at the moment and which is said by many experts to confer an advantage on those who appear at the top of the list. I believe there is evidence of this—and I can see the reason why the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sowerby might be reluctant to accept any suggestion of this nature. It does not make much difference to me, personally, because I am roughly in the middle alphabetically, but I think that, looking at the matter objectively, we would agree that persons whose names begin with the letters A or C have some advantage over those whose names begin with S or V. This is a distortion of the democratic process which it it the job of this House to try to correct.

The hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devenport (Dame Joan Vickers) may have something to say on this question. I do not know whether she has had any experience of it herself, being so far down the alphabetical list, but if she has, she has overcome it. She has overcome any such disadvantage by her great virtues and she has come to this House. Nevertheless, that was a handicap which she had to overcome during her election, and although it has not made any difference to her success, and I am delighted about that, it could in a marginal election, and I think the Home Secretary might take the opportunity of giving this matter his attention, if not now, perhaps when the Bill goes to another place.

I am not firmly wedded to the idea of the grouping of names such as is suggested in my new Clause, for the simple reason that one has had very little time to think about it. The successive stages of this Bill have followed one another so closely that it has been extremely difficult to take advice from experts outside and to draft properly considered Amendments in time for Report now. So I am not going to pretend that new Clause 3 properly carries out the intentions which I have described to the House. However, I think that the Home Secretary has probably met the main point, which was discussed in Committee.

I certainly agree that what the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Sharples) now proposes is a great improvement on the Bill as it first stood, but I would ask the House, before we part with this Bill and have lost for another 20 years the chance we now have, to consider the matter of the order of names on the ballot paper.

Mr. Paul B. Rose (Manchester, Blackley)

I seek to make only two observations on the consequences of doing away with registration. Since there will now be no registration—the observation has already been made and I must agree with this—any candidate can now steal the title of another candidate and thus succeed in misleading the electorate. It may well be that there is here a safeguard at Parliamentary elections at which, of course, one has to have a large deposit, and at which a candidate needs substantial organisation to back him, but the same is not so in local elections.

I am concerned about this because of the frequent petty squabbles which occur at local level when there are splits in the major political parties, and there is often controversy over who is the official candidate of the party, and even one who may perhaps be expelled from his party may claim to be its true representative. One can envisage this happening in one sphere at the next General Election because of the defection of one hon. Member from his party in this House, and where there has already been litigation.

I think that my right hon. Friend must certainly agree with the main intention of these changes, but he underestimates their importance, and how important this may become in the future. I hope that he will have a look at this, because I fear that there may be quite a rash of happenings, where a candidate purports to use the title of another.

There is another matter which has not been raised, and that is that no candidate can now have a label at all, and it seems to me wrong that on the one hand we say a label may be used and then say that a person has a right not to use the label. I say this because it seems to me that a candidate can now avoid the consequences of his affiliation to a party by not putting on the ballot form the name of the party to which he belongs and to which he is affiliated.

If we are to have titles, then every candidate should have a title. It would be wrong to have a half-way measure whereby some candidates will have a title, some will display their affiliation and others will not. At the very least, candidates who have no affiliation ought to be able to use the word "independent".

5.0 p.m.

The Amendment to new Clause 2 has a weakness in that it does not allow for the sorting out of the problem. If there is failure to reach agreement, no one is allowed to use discretion and we are back to square one. We need machinery whereby, in advance of an election, the legitimate right to a party label can be decided and provided for. When a commercial title is used by a firm not entitled to do so, there is a law of passing off—

Mr. Sharples

I am sure the hon. Gentleman appreciates that there is nothing in the law, or in the law as proposed by the right hon. Gentleman, which prevents anyone using any description up to the time when the elector goes into the polling station. All the Amendment to new Clause 2 does is to take care of a disagreement about the description on the ballot paper. It does not prevent anybody using any description.

Mr. Rose

Yes, but the point was made earlier by the hon. Gentleman that this is an official document which contains the description and has a special status. I accept that this is so. The weakness of the Amendment is that, where there is failure to reach agreement, all the descriptions are erased and we are left in the position in which we would have been had the Bill never come before the House. This is a weakness, although I sympathise with the intention of the Amendment.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will look again at this and consider whether machinery can be created to solve this problem. We have had little time to consider this. I received to-day a letter from my agent, a particularly good agent who has achieved remarkable results in two successive General Elections. He felt that he had not had time to consider the full consequences of many points in the Bill. There may well in the future be controversy over the use of party labels and an unfair use of them, and I ask my right hon. Friend to look again at this point, which is a direct consequence of doing away with machinery for the registration of party labels.

Sir D. Glover

I support much of what the right hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) has said. Having served on Mr. Speaker's Conference for three years, I am astonished at the ease with which the Government have thrown out most of our proposals—

Mr. Callaghan

If the hon. Gentleman will excuse me; my right hon. Friend made the same mistake. In fact, we have adopted 60 of the 71 proposals, plus others in part. No one can claim that the views of Mr. Speaker's Conference have been flouted, ignored or set on one side.

Sir D. Glover

I was not intending to pick a quarrel, but it is extraordinary that the Government have not accepted the most important recommendations while they have accepted the minor ones. On a pure numerical basis they have accepted most of them. On this recommendation we went into the problems in conference and individually with our agents, working out the difficulties involved. It is significant that the Government's first try was accepted by the whole House as being completely unworkable. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] It was not unworkable, but it was so complicated that no one would accept it. The longer we debate this the more the views and fears expressed in Mr. Speaker's Conference come to light.

The hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Rose) says that he has a good agent. I suppose there are two points of view on that and on the results of the last two elections. He accepts the fears about registration. The Opposition have got nearest to solving the problem in the Amendment to New Clause 2, but I am not certain that the problem is completely solved even by the Amendment.

Everyone is trying to keep the returning officer out of this. Once registration is brought in people will have the right to register as standing for a certain party or group. It is like looking for the philosopher's stone, the deeper one delves, the more snags one finds. If my right hon. Friend's Amendment is accepted, the result will be that, for example, in Pembrokeshire the candidate who is recognised by the official party machine will be asked to object to any other similar description, so that the candidates will appear on the ballot paper with no description. This will inevitably happen in a contested election where two candidates feel that they justifiably represent the same party. In those circumstances, the result of the Amendment would be that no candidate would be described on the ballot paper.

I started off with the idea that descriptions were undesirable. I accept what the right hon. Member for Sowerby said, that to vote is an honour, a privilege and a duty, and therefore a person who intends to cast a vote should at least have taken the trouble to ascertain beforehand who he will vote for.

Mr. Denis Coe (Middleton and Prestwich)

I would remind the hon. Gentleman that in 1964 he was imploring the Government of the day to look at this question and, on 16th April, he said that when the electors go to the polling station they are confused to find that the ballot paper contains only a list of names. I gather that he has changed his mind.

Sir D. Glover

I have given the matter some study since then. I have discovered that what I said in an easy way at that time has many snags to it. We are all searching for the philosopher's stone and even the Home Secretary is not absolutely certain that he has it right.

We also do not wish the returning officer to be the person who makes the decision or gets involved. A possibility which might be linked on to the Amendment is that where there is a dispute the returning officer might act as Mr. Speaker acts on Standing Order No. 9 where he refuses to accept a Motion but gives no reasons for doing so. The returning officer could refuse to accept a description and ask for another description, acceptable to him, to be provided before the close of nominations. He would not express a view, he would not suggest what should be written on the ballot paper. I was impressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) when he said that five words could be used as a very good slogan, and the one he quoted could be most damaging in an election.

If we are to have descriptions on ballot papers, I believe that a returning officer should have the power to say that he will not accept a description. I think that he ought to have the right to refuse, but not have to explain his reason for refusal, rather like Questions in the Table Office and Mr. Speaker with Standing Order No. 9. At some stage in the procedure, however small his role may be, the returning officer should have some residual responsibility. I cannot see how it can be worked without it. Otherwise we will either have no descriptions on the ballot paper, because one candidate has objected to another candidate's description, or we will have evil descriptions as described by my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West. Therefore, I feel that the returning officer at that stage in the proceedings must have an end responsibility.

I hope that the Home Secretary will look at that proposal, because I do not think that so far any of us have quite got the matter right. After all, I do not suppose that we shall have another Representation of the People Bill for some years. Therefore, if we are to have these descriptions, both in national and local government elections, we have a tremendous responsibility to get it right before the Bill leaves this place for another place.

Mr. W. Howie (Luton)

I am reluctant to disagree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton), especially as I hardly ever disagree with Privy Councillors in any circumstances at all if I can reasonably avoid it. I do not think that my right hon. Friend could reasonably complain about the treatment received by Mr. Speaker's Conference. We all respect that conference. It consists of Members of experience whom we respect and admire, but we do not feel that whatever they say is necessarily law, although it might become law if we agree. At the end of the day, Mr. Speaker's Conference must accept that it gives us advice and we decide whether to accept it. In that respect I think that the Government are right to take other advice than that of Mr. Speaker's Conference.

The importance of the new Clause lies in two directions. First, that this is a much simpler system than the registration system originally proposed. I do not think that the original system was in any way workable. It would have worked, but it was complicated and would have given right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite certain local problems. However we see no reason why they should be lumbered with their problems all the time.

The new Clause makes the system easier to work. It is, therefore, more valuable. I think, too, that the greatest value is that it brings in the local elections. This is a problem for local government elections rather than Parliamentary elections. There is no problem in Parliamentary elections, but there is a real problem in local government elections, especially in the Greater London area, at any rate in recent years, where the electoral divisions are rather large.

Again I must disagree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby. He suggested that it was the responsibility of the candidate to get himself known. This is true. In a Parliamentary election it is not very difficult, because there is great interest and the organs of publicity are in full operation so the candidate can get himself known to almost every elector. However, even in Parliamentary elections, it is not unknown for an occasional voter to turn up at the polling station without being terribly sure for which candidate he wishes to vote, purely because of identification.

5.15 p.m.

In local elections this is more difficult. The organs of publicity are not at the elbow of the candidate. He has to tramp round the streets to try to get himself known and to put forward his views. Therefore, the possibilities of electors being without the necessary knowledge are much greater. In that respect the new Clause will be of great value in local government elections.

One or two problems have come up in the debate. Misdescription has been raised by a number of hon. Members. This is a possibility. A candidate, under the new Clause, can describe himself almost in any way that he likes, and this could lead to confusion.

The hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) suggested that his party is quite likely to find two candidates standing in a contest and confusion might arise. One great improvement in the new Clause as against the poster proposal is that, since the descriptions come at the beginning of the campaign, part of the campaign would be devoted to sorting out candidates who were opposed or who were of similar descriptions. If confusion arose it would be a factor in the campaign. In a local campaign it would be a factor of greater than usual interest. The argument about who was the correct candidate would probably receive a fair amount of publicity and there would not quite be the likelihood of danger that has geen suggested, although I do not say that there is no danger.

A serious problem was raised by the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) when he talked about a description possibly being a slogan. This is a real problem and I hope that my right hon. Friend will look at it. It is like the registration of children's names. To call a child Charles Barebones would be a name, but to call him Praise be to God Barebones would be a slogan.

Sir D. Glover

It has been done.

Mr. Howie

It has been done, but not for some time.

Sir D. Glover

A couple in Liverpool not long ago christened their child with the eleven names of the Liverpool football team.

Mr. Howie

I am sure that even in Liverpool the footballers have names rather than slogans. One is Ian St. John, which is a very good name. I already knew that Praise be to God Barebones had been used. That is why it came into my head.

I am under the impression—I am open to correction—that occasionally registration officers in town halls take objection to names which they regard as not true names but as slogans. I am not using Liverpool or any other football team as a guide, but where a name has been suggested along the lines of Praise be to God Barebones, although that has not been used for some time, local registration officers have taken exception. I am not sure about the legal position—and I do not make any attempt to pronounce upon it—but it might be possible to devise a system wherein the name of a party or group was acceptable but a slogan was not. I put it no stronger than that.

I refer now to the last sentence of the Amendment moved by what I think we can regard as the official Opposition. The weakness of the Amendment seems to be that in the event of a dispute and a failure to agree—I may say that I am attracted to the general idea of some kind of arbitration or however it may be described at the beginning of the Amendment—everyone's description is wiped out, whether there are 4, 5, 6 or 20 candidates. That is a weakness if the dispute lies between two candidates only. If a candidate disagrees with the idea of party labels on ballot papers, he can ensure that there was no agreement merely by disagreeing with someone for an hour, which I fancy most right hon. and hon. Members could do without too much difficulty. In that case everyone's description would be annulled, and surely that would be wrong?

Mr. Sharples

Does not the hon. Gentleman accept that the same principle applies to broadcasting?

Mr. Howie

I do, and I was about to mention that the fact that it exists in broadcasting does not make it right. I was about to suggest that it was wrong here, because it was wrong in broadcasting.

I think that the Clause should be accepted. I hope that my right hon. Friend will pay attention to some of the comments which have been made about it with a view, perhaps at a later stage, to amending it mildly.

Mr. Onslow

There are two troubles here. First, this is a matter which has got into the hands of the theoreticians. Theoreticians like to work to three places of decimals, and life for the rest of us is not long enough for that. Fortunately this idea has penetrated the Front Bench, to the extent that the original theoretician's paradise, as embodied in Schedule 1, has been seen to go too far down the decimal line, and instead we have a Clause which works to only one place of decimal. That is an improvement of a kind, but we are still talking about the problem in theoretical terms which have very little relation to actual practice terms, and this is where we come to the second trouble.

The second trouble is that this is a problem which we all know is felt, if it is felt at all, in the local government sphere. Anyone who has been to local government party conferences, or taken part in parties after closely contested counts, knows how often it is said "If only there had been some means of making sure that our man's party was printed on his ballot paper against his name, the result could have been significantly different". I shall not argue that that is not so.

Given that that was the problem, with characteristic percipience the Government produced a solution to a problem which was not put to them at all. In other words, the Government produced a proposal to supply names on the ballot paper at Parliamentary and not local government elections. Here again they have come half way to meet the problem as it is by extending their proposals to both Parliamentary and local government elections. I have a feeling that life would be easier for us all if we could have had before us this afternoon a Clause which related only to local government elections, because on that basis we could have had a more serious and constructive debate.

We all know that the point at which the danger of misdescription would be most significant is at the Parliamentary level. I can see many circumstances in which misdescription could influence the result of an election. I can imagine for instance—because it is the people who will attract the fewest votes in their own right who will depend most heavily on the influence of what is printed on the ballot paper—that this Measure could have damaging consequences for the Liberal Party.

If a man puts himself down on the ballot paper as a Conservative, or a Socialist, the party machines representing the Conservative Party and the Socialist Party will have relatively little difficulty in clearing the electorate's mind on that statement. But where there is a party with smaller resources, the fact that one candidate calls himself a Liberal, and another calls himself a liberal, might be something which a relatively minor party like that might find it difficult to overcome.

For that, and for other reasons, this proposal at the Parliamentary level is not nearly so attractive in practice as the theoreticians have made it seem, and I wish that we could have agreed to tackle the problem where we know it exists instead of spending a Second Reading and a Committee stage talking about a problem which is of relatively little significance before getting down to considering in part the problem which we all know faces us.

Having said that, I want to follow one thing said by the right hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton). Like him, I was a member of Mr. Speaker's Conference. I shall not seek to be a member of any other Speaker's Conference which works under the rules under which we worked, because I believe that not only did we waste a great deal of time, but that, quite inadvertently, we have been guilty of wasting much of the time of the House, due to the fact that we came to conclusions which seemed sound to us on the basis of considerations which were fairly penetrating, but the House has not the faintest idea what led us to those conclusions. I believe that if we are ever to have another Speaker's Conference, it must sit in public, and not merely have its proceedings published. I believe that it would be worth while the Government formulating proposals and putting them to Mr. Speaker's Conference, rather than the other way round.

When that situation arises, I suppose in about 20 years' time, no doubt no hon. Member present now will be in the House. [Interruption.] Perhaps some hon. Gentlemen opposite are so confident of their appeal to the electorate that they can say now that they will be here in 1988, but that is not a boast which I should be presumptuous enough to make. I do not know whether any other hon. Member wishes to make it, but I hope that when that time comes what I have said will strike a chord in somebody's memory.

It is clear from what has been said this afternoon that nearly everybody in this Chamber wants to have another look at the Clause, and we are fairly certain that it will come before us again with certain amendments from another place. That seems to be a pity. I do not think that we need have got ourselves into this predicament. I believe that there were other and better ways of tackling this issue, and I am sorry that we have wasted so much time on it this afternoon.

Mr. Coe

I support the Clause. That is hardly surprising, as I have introduced two private Members Bills on this very subject. It is worth reminding the House that I was faced with the difficulty which the Government faced when they introduced the provisions for the placing of descriptions on ballot papers, namely, should we have a system whereby there is registration, and therefore a party has the sole right to use a particular label, or should there be a more free-for-all system, which is what we have opted for in this Clause?

I have maintained all along that this question of misdescription is over-stated. I do not believe that there will be anything like the amount of misdescription which has been suggested this afternoon. Nevertheless, I recognise, and indeed my right hon. Friend recognised, that there will be some slight danger of this. But to those who say, "We are all in favour of the principle, but we do not like this proposal" I say that we can go on like this for ever, because, whatever system is produced, it will have certain disadvantages.

To those who say that people might be misguided by the description on the ballot paper, I would remind them that in Wandsworth, in 1967, 6,000 of the electorate were misguided by the fact that there were candidates of the same name, and people could not differentiate between them. The consequence was that 6,000 people cast their votes for a candidate they did not want. To my mind this demonstrates, in stark form, the real need for a system of party labels on ballot papers. I think that this objection about misdescription is overstated, and I believe that the system as now detailed in the Clause will meet most of the objections which have been put forward.

Perhaps I might now follow up one or two of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Luton (Mr. Howie), and others. I agree with those who say that the suggestion put forward originally by the Opposition of having a statement of the affiliations of candidates at the polling stations is not enough. But I do not believe that there is a great deal of difference between having descriptions on such a notice and having them on the ballot paper. I do not know why it is suggested that the returning officer should have responsibility for publishing ballot papers but should not take responsibility for publishing the notice which is given to the general public when they come to the polling station. After all, it would be just as much an official document as the ballot forms on which electors put their crosses. I therefore agree with the difficulties that have been mentioned in connection with the Conservative Amendment.

5.30 p.m.

I was interested in the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Luton in connection with possible objections by candidates to the descriptions of others. Despite what has been said about this, I suggest that we should go ahead with new Clause 2 as drafted and see how it works in practice. I would remind the House that descriptions do not suddenly appear on the scene. A candidate will have campaigned under the same description for three, four or more weeks before polling day.

The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) has suggested the grouping of candidates. This idea was suggested to me when I was in the process of framing my two private Bills. It has some merit in that this grouping procedure is adopted in certain countries which allow party labels to appear on ballot papers. I do not feel very strongly on this but this idea could perhaps be combined with that of party labels as an extra help to electors. After all, if a ballot paper contains 20 names it would be helpful to have the candidates standing for the various parties grouped together so that people may more easily differentiate.

As hon. Members know, I have lived with this subject for some time. When people argue that this is only a local government matter, they are mistaken. I accept that, from the practical point of view of avoiding confusion, it matters particularly at local government elections, but we should be wrong not to accept that there are occasions in Parliamentary elections when the availability of the political descriptions of candidates on ballot papers will be of assistance.

We should accept that by adopting the idea of using party labels on ballot papers we are, at the same time, recognising that political parties exist in our constitution. That is not a bad thing. At long last, after many years of constitutional development, we are recognising publicly that political parties exist. Having accepted that, we are saying that we are not ashamed of stating it publicly. I welcome the Measure and congratulate my right hon. Friend for having dealt with this subject. These provisions will be of great assistance to our democratic system and if any of the difficulties which have been forecast arise when the Bill becomes law, we can make the necessary amendments later.

Mr. Tony Gardner (Rushcliffe)

I apologise to you, Mr. Speaker, and to my right hon. Friend for not being in my place at the beginning of the debate. A constituency delegation arrived at the House and my attendance was required elsewhere. For that reason the House will not wish to hear me for long. I thank my right hon. Friend for adopting the view, if not the method, proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huckfield) in an Amendment which we tabled in Committee.

Although much has been said about deliberately evil slogans being used, the difficulty is that evil slogans can be put before the electorate by all sorts of means. In a number of West Midlands constituencies in the 1964 General Election every householder had deliberately evil labels placed through the letter box by representatives of a certain political party on the day before the election. Perhaps there will be an opportunity at a future time to consider the extent to which evil slogans are allowable in our political process.

Mr. Onslow

Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that we should consider this matter before dealing with descriptions and other things which will appear on ballot papers? If there is any time when this matter should be dealt with, it is surely now.

Mr. Gardner

This matter will have to be considered thoroughly. The very basis of our political liberty is that we can say what we like in public. The House would not wish to change the law in this respect—the law which deals with the way in which we behave in issuing propaganda—without extremely careful thought. For that reason, we cannot consider it now.

The question of deliberately false or misleading descriptions is raised in the Conservative Amendment. I do not like the way in which it is dealt with there, although I appreciate the difficulty of dealing with a man who describes himself as a member of a political party when he is not. I am not sure of the answer. Last Session the House passed the Trade Descriptions Act which made it a criminal offence for advertisers to apply false descriptions to goods and services. Considering the rights which objectors have to civil redress in this connection, perhaps, in terms of misrepresentation, we can get round the problem in another way. Other than that, I congratulate my right hon. Friend on what he has done and hope that the House will welcome the new Clause.

Mr. Callaghan

With the leave of the House, I will reply to the points that have been made in what has been an extremely interesting debate. I am grateful for the observations that have been made, although most of those who took part have removed themselves from the Chamber, and are no doubt engaged on important work elsewhere.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Mr. Coe) is in his place, I congratulate him because we are concerned with a process which he has been advocating since he first came to the House. His gentle but firm persistence is about to be rewarded by this Measure appearing on the Statute Book. My hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Gardner) has joined him in that work.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe raised the same point as that raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Rose), and I must tell them that the House cannot have it both ways. I originally put forward a proposal that would have had the effect of copyrighting a party's name so that the party would be protected against misrepresentation. At that time the House said, "We do not like that, We do not want to be protected in that way. There should be other ways of doing the job." I now come forward with the alternative; namely, that people should be free to describe themselves as they feel right, but I am told, "You are leaving yourself open to misrepresentation. Why cannot we copyright the names of parties "? What am I to do?

Mr. Nigel Birch (Flint, West)


Mr. Callaghan

Perhaps the third alternative, so to speak, is to do nothing. The right hon. Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch), not for the first time in history, coupled with his hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow), are totally at variance with public opinion. If there is one thing about which everybody is agreed—with the exception of a few hon. Gentlemen opposite who have expressed a contrary view—it is that the public want this service. The correspondence reaching not only me but the Conservative Central Office bears this out, and I speak not without some knowledge of the subject. If we omit the third course, which is to do nothing, we have a choice between copyrighting the parties' title or having what my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe described as a free-for-all. The House having said that it does not wish to copyright, we are left with a free-for-all, and that raises a different kind of difficulty from that raised by my original proposal. On balance, it is an advance on my original proposal in that it deals with local elections, which my original proposal did not.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) has left the Chamber. I am sure that he is engaged on worthwhile business. But he went to town on this issue with all the outraged dignity of which he is capable because we had not accepted the whole of the recommendations of Mr. Speaker's Conference. In fact, we have accepted 60 out of 71, and it is an exaggeration of language to say that the recommendations of Mr. Speaker's Conference have been flouted. Indeed, even if they have been flouted, it is by the decision of the House of Commons, and not even Mr. Speaker's Conference can hope to override that. On some of the issues on which the conference recommended they were divided. There was no universal light from heaven which descended on these 24 Apostles.

Mr. C. Pannell

Nor on the Cabinet.

Mr. Callaghan

That is exactly the point that I am making. My right hon. Friend shows less than his usual perception. I am saying that these are matters of judgment. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby has returned. Perhaps I may point out to him one example to illustrate my argument. There was the question of public opinion polls and betting.

Sir Donald Kaberry (Leeds, Northwest)

That was a silly decision of Mr. Speaker's Conference.

Mr. Callaghan

Even the hon. Member cannot have it both ways. He cannot, on the one hand, say that the decisions of Mr. Speaker's Conference were silly and then, on the other hand, say that the House of Commons should not override them. By almost general assent the House of Commons decided that that was a "silly" decision of Mr. Speaker's Conference. There was no unanimity on this point in Mr. Speaker's Conference. There was a majority view and a minority view, and the Government reserve the right to think again and to put their proposals before the House.

There were other points, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby must know—he served on the Conference for three years—on which there was not a unanimous view but a majority and a minority view. Why should the House of Commons be excluded from considering this or any other issues which it wishes to consider, despite the fact that the accumulated wisdom of our very revered seniors on Mr. Speaker's Conference has indicated a certain course? I must reserve the right of the House of Commons or of the Government of the day, whichever Party it represents, to say to Mr. Speaker's Conference, "We thank you warmly. We think you have done much useful work. We accept the great majority of your recommendations. But we also reserve the right to differ and to ask the House of Commons to consider the result". If he reflects, I believe that my right hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby will think that his language this afternoon did not match the situation at all.

Mr. Houghton


Mr. Callaghan

I said that my right hon. Friend spoke in a spirit of outraged dignity. I hope that he does not want to repeat it now, but I will gladly give way to him.

Mr. Houghton

I apologise for my late arrival in the Chamber on this occasion, but hon. Members always have to be in two places at once. I have just about managed it. I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the fact that six major proposals were made by Mr. Speaker's Conference, that four were rejected, that one was modified and that the other was accepted. That is not a very good score for Mr. Speaker's Conference.

Mr. Callaghan

I had said that I knew that my right hon. Friend was engaged on important work although he was not in the Chamber.

In reply to his intervention, I suggest that much depends on what one means by "important". My right hon. Friend is using a value judgment. He selects certain recommendations which he considers were the most important, but other hon. Members may take a different view. However, I repeat that we are all genuinely grateful for the work done by the Conference, but we must reserve the right to differ and to ask the House of Commons to reach different conclusions if it wishes to do so.

The hon. Member for Woking said that there was a case next time for the publication of the evidence. In the light of the experience which we have had on this occasion, I agree entirely with that view, if I am not out of order in saying so. The Government, too, have a great deal of evidence, and they gave much consideration to these matters. I am sure that it would have been better if we had seen the evidence put before Mr. Speaker's Conference. That might have saved us and the House a good deal of time.

5.45 p.m.

But I must resist his view that the Government have been focusing on the issue on which the House did not want to focus. The House of Commons did not raise this matter. The Government intimated as long ago as July that they thought there was a case for putting labels on ballot papers. No one else had made that proposition. I put forward the difficulties at the time. It is fair to say that the Government have made all the running on this issue. Indeed, that gave rise to some of the complaints which were made. To the extent that consideration by the House has altered our approach, that is a matter on which the House can congratulate itself.

I suggest to my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley that it is not fair to complain about lack of time. The recommendations of Mr. Speaker's Conference have been known since last February.

Sir D. Glover

I do not know how long it is since those recommendations were known, but the complaint is about the lack of time given to consider the Government's proposals.

Mr. Callaghan

The agents knew last February what Mr. Speaker's Conference proposed. They have known since July what were the Government's recommendations. Everything except the alterations in detail, the machinery details, has been known for a considerable time, and certainly long enough for people to consider their attitudes. As the House knows, there is a particular reason for proceeding with the Bill rather earlier than otherwise would have been the case.

I am grateful for the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Luton (Mr. Howie) and I agree that this proposal will be important for local government elections. That is its major virtue. I promise him and my right hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby that I was not lacking in a sense of how many civil servants would be needed under the original scheme. We need not argue it, but the Chief Registrar of Friendly Societies was quite capable of handling it. He would have had to draw up two registers a year, and two sixpenny exercise books, would have been enough for most of it. The work which was entailed was largely on the part of the Conservative Associations, which would have had to register individually. That was the major difficulty under my original proposal. I thought that my right hon. Friend was indulging in the usual amount of his vigorous hyperbole, and I can assure him that no great army of civil servants would have been involved.

The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) asked about the arrangement of the names in alphabetical order, and my hon. Friend the Member for Middle-ton and Prestwich asked about grouping. I hope that the description which the candidate can use in future, if the House agrees to the Clause, will mitigate if not eradicate most of the difficulty. No matter what is the order in which names appear on the ballot paper, whether there are 20 names or three names, candidates will have descriptions against their names, and if they choose the descriptions by which they want to be known, then the electors will be able to make the "pick of the pops". To that extent the case for grouping is overridden by this proposal and I intend to go no further with the matter.

As with any scheme, there are disadvantages as well as advantages. Despite the plea put to me by the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Sharples), I cannot promise that the Government will wish to put forward any further proposals on this issue, because whatever further proposals we put forward could be revised even further—and further; and there must be finality at some stage. Mr. Speaker's Conference considered the matter, the House considered it in a debate on the White Paper, it considered it again on Second Reading and in Committee, and we are considering it again on Report. I must advise the House that this is the scheme upon which, in the end, we must vote and upon which we must decide.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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